Map helps to predict storm surges

The start of the Atlantic hurricane season is less than a month out, and forecasters will be keeping a close eye on storms that could threaten the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines.

One major change this year is a graphical map that can show which areas are expected to be affected by an approaching hurricane’s storm surge. National Weather Service meteorologist Roger Erickson said a trial effort tested last year was successful in warning Florida residents of potential storm surge for approaching hurricanes.

“We’re trying to increase awareness of this new product,” Erickson said Friday. “It’s kind of unknown in a lot of ways. It’s not like a standard hurricane warning. You need to look at the map to see which areas are expected to have problems with storm surge.”

Along with hurricane warnings, Erickson said the weather service can issue separate storm surge watches and warnings.

Erickson said the weather service has also changed policies so it can issue hurricane warnings two days before an unnamed system of storms forms into a hurricane and makes landfall. He mentioned Hurricane Humberto, which formed on Sept. 12, 2007, and made landfall near High Island, Texas, the next day.

Erickson said the advanced warning will give local officials more time to plan before a storm’s landfall.

The weather service will announce on Thursday the hurricane forecast for the upcoming storm season. Erickson said forecasters are hearing reports that the hurricane season may be quieter than in previous years if El Niño develops over the summer, causing fewer storms.

Ambassador program

The weather service is also pushing another effort to help businesses and individuals get tips on how to react during severe weather.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began the Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador Program about two years ago. It provides periodic weather safety tips during every season. Recent topics focused on hurricane awareness, while upcoming tips will address heat safety during the summer.

Those interested can sign up at www.noaa.gov/wrn.

Erickson said the ambassador program isn’t limited to emergency managers or first responders. He said roughly 200 partners are signed up across 16 parishes and six counties in Texas, and more than 5,000 partners nationwide.

“We’re expanding slowly but surely,” Erickson said. “A lot of refineries are a part of the program, and hospitals are already signed up. It’s available to everyone.”

Erickson said Calcasieu Parish was recently recertified for the StormReady program. The program, started in 1999 in Tulsa, Okla., recognizes cities, counties and parishes that have plans in place to communicate severe weather warnings to the public. Recertification happens every six years.

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